Máirtín Moylan, 1898-1923
By Paul Hession
This article was originally published in Anach Cuain 2008.
“Máirtín Moylan from Farmerstown in lovely Annaghdown” is a well known line from a song written about one of Annaghdown’s sons, slain for the cause of Irish freedom. While his name is known to many, do many know the story that led him to become so well known and to have a song written in his honour? Do many know he laid down his life for his country 85 years ago this year?
Máirtín Moylan was born on the 10th of November 1898 to Thomas and Honor Moylan, (née Burke from Ardgaineen) of Farmerstown. His father died in January 1899 leaving his mother to rear the family by herself. Could it be from here, looking at his mother’s strong will and determination that Máirtín found the resilience to see his cause through to the end in his later life? Honor may have needed time to get herself on her feet after her husband’s death, and on the 31st of March 1901, Máirtín is to be found in the census records listed in the house of his grandparents, Michael and Ellen Burke (née Boyle from Carrowbrowne) of Ardgaineen. How long he remained with his grandparents is not known but sending children to live with relatives was not an uncommon practice at the time to help with rearing the family. He was not to remain in Ardgaineen indefinitely and in time returned to his beloved Farmerstown.
Growing up into a young man he was no doubt influenced by the political turmoil and civil unrest occurring in the whole country during his youth. The 1916 Rising and the martyrdom of many of its members must have moved him deeply and helped to resolve his determination to play his part in the fight for Irish Freedom. With Ireland still caught up in civil war, times were hard for the young Moylan. His mother, worrying for the safety of her youngest child, called Máirtín aside and pleaded with him to see the error of his ways citing that, “You’re a young man Máirtín. Don’t go throwing your life away.” Doubtless he listened to, but did not heed, the concerned pleas of his traumatised mother and continued on his mission, that is until one fateful day – the 19th of February 1923.
A group of IRA volunteers had been in training in the North Galway area. Máirtín and a group of seventeen others were resting after this training in Cluide and the house and barn where they were hiding, belonging to Forde’s, were surrounded by the Irish Free State Army. Discovered to be carrying guns, they were arrested and taken to Galway for trial. One escaped, John Francis Rhatigan of Caherlistrane, leaving his overcoat in the hands of the Free State soldier that had been holding him! The others were not so lucky. The names of the sixteen others were: John Newell, Windfort, Headford; Pat Farragher, Kilmaine; Michael Joyce, Headford; James Craddock, Headford; Patrick Jennings, Milltown; Thomas Madden, Caherlistrane; Edward Dooley, Headford; Michael Sweeney, Seefin, Claremorris; Batty Canavan, Mossfort; John Hession, Turlane, Caherlistrane; Michael Connolly, Hollymount; Michael Monaghan, Clooneen, Headford; Francis Cunnane, Kilcoona, Headford; Sean Maguire, Cross; Joseph Collins, Kilkeel, Headford; and Peter Brennan, Milltown. Interned in Galway Jail, the site of the present Galway Cathedral, they were sent for trial at a military court and charged with having arms and ammunition. Sentence was passed quickly – each one was to face death by firing squad. However the Bishop of Galway, Dr. Thomas O’Dea, died on Monday the 9th of April 1923. There followed a period of mourning within Galway city until his funeral on Thursday the 12th of April. Six men were then told they would be executed at 6am on Wednesday the 11th of April in Tuam; Máirtín Moyian, Francis Cunnane, Sean Maguire, John Newell, Michael Monaghan and Seamus O’Maille, Uachtar Ard. They were then taken from Galway Jail to the old Tuam Workhouse, which was then Tuam Military Barracks. Máirtín, facing certain death, wrote his final letters to those he loved, including one to his, doubtless heartbroken, mother, before attending Mass for the final time.
On Wednesday, the 11th of April 1923, at the tender age of 24, Máirtín Moylan along with his comrades in arms of the North Galway IRA Brigade, stepped forward into the early morning light for the last time. What thoughts went through his head on that fateful morning knowing what lay before him, no-one will ever know. Did he regret his actions? Did he think of the pain he was causing those left behind, or did he die in the belief that he was dying to better his country? Whatever his thoughts, he was lined up with his comrades and, in two groups of three, against the wall of the workhouse Oratory, they were shot by firing squad. A young life cut tragically short. The Connacht Tribune of Saturday 14th of April 1923 carried the story that “The condemned men, it is stated, went to their doom firmly and with brave hearts. They had been attended during the night by two of the town priests and in the morning heard Mass, at which two of them served. The priests were with them to the end.”
All of the volunteers were buried within the walls of the workhouse where they were shot. This was not to be their final resting place however. They were exhumed later in 1923 and taken to Athlone. Finally, on October 28th 1924 the bodies were released once more, Mairtin being the sixth body to be released. The bodies, along with their original coffins, were placed into new, white, shell coffins to encase the old ones, and were then brought in a funeral cortege through Tuam and on in to Headford where the Tricolour draped coffins remained for the night in St. Mary’s Church. As the remains passed Belclare Church, the funeral bell tolled in the eerie darkness across the hushed countryside, creating a slow, mournful peal. The Connacht Tribune of the 1st of November 1924 reported that despite a terrible downpour and the late hour – they did not arrive in Tuam until half past eleven and Headford at half past one – a huge number of people had gathered awaiting their arrival in Tuam and stood with heads bowed and uncovered as the cars passed, while soldiers and the Civic Guards saluted. Over twenty cars were in the cortege, the first nine containing the remains of the soldiers and the rest carrying their relatives. The Rosary was recited on their arrival in the church and the North Galway Brigade, IRA stood guard. The funeral was held at 11 a.m. on the 30th of October 1924 after which they were buried in the Republican plot in Donaghpatrick cemetery, Caherlistrane. All businesses closed in Tuam and the surrounding areas to mark a general day of mourning.
The end of his life was not to be the end of his story and his memory lives on in the minds of the Annaghdown people, being passed from generation to generation, and immortalised in the song “Brave Máirtín Moylan from Lovely Annaghdown.” As to the future, well his memory shows no signs of fading, though few, if any, people remain who actually knew him. The Moylans still live in Farmerstown, (or Cloonleenaun as it is officially known) and so help to keep Máirtín alive in spirit. No doubt they and others will continue to pass on the story and future generations will continue to know who this famous son of Annaghdown was and how he died fighting for Irish freedom. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
Attend you gentle Moylans,
And bold irregulars too;
While I relate the cruel, cruel fate
Of a hero brave and true;
While unfurling freedom’s banner
In Tuam he was shot down,
Far from his own dear Farmerstown
In Lovely Annaghdown.
He was a loyal Irishman
With the men of his Brigade;
He’d never yield upon the field
And he never was afraid.
At Cluide the bloodhounds captured him,
Saying “Máirtín you’ll go down,
And you’ll never more see Farmerstown
In lovely Annaghdown”.
On the eleventh day of April,
In nineteen twenty-three,
They led poor Máirtín Moylan out,
And convicted him that day;
Before they fired that cruel, cruel shot
That was to bring him down,
He wrote a letter to his mother out
In Lovely Annaghdown.
Oh, Annaghdown has cause to weep
For that poor widow’s son;
But for ever gap there is a man,
And for every man a gun;
We’ll strike a blow, and fight the foe,
And mow all tyrants down,
Line Máirtín Moylan from Farmerstown
In Lovely Annaghdown.
Farewell dear Máirtín Moylan,
To you we bid adieu;
The cause you gave your young life for
Is a cause we’ll all renew;
We’ll fight from morning ‘til dark night,
And our lives we will lay down,
Like Máirtín Moylan from Farmerstown
In Lovely Annaghdown.